Ask Donald Davidson: Prosthetic legs and the first foreign engine to win

Published On November 3, 2016 » 4374 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History

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I believe Al Miller, Bill Schindler and Cal Niday were the only “500” participants to have competed with prosthetic legs?  Was there a “500” that included more than one of these drivers? — Gary Shearon, via Facebook

To the best of our knowledge, the three you mentioned are the only ones who actually drove in the race, although we do know of at least one other aspirant, Dan Murphy, who took some practice laps in 1975, although he never got started on his rookie test. And while the careers of Miller, Schindler and Niday did slightly overlap, no two of them ever raced against each other in the same “500.” Miller, who started every race between 1932 and 1941, and then again in 1947 (no races during WWII), was still on hand to take an occasional “test hop” when Schindler arrived to take his rookie test in 1950 and Niday was on the grounds, “shopping” and even sitting in a cockpit or two in 1952, the year Schindler made his final appearance. Schindler’s leg was lost in a racing accident in 1936, while both Miller and Niday lost theirs in motorcycle accidents during their youth, Niday at 17 just as he was leaving high school. The best finish for any of the three was sixth by Miller (with Zeke Meyer as a relief driver) in 1934, while Niday landed a 10th-place finish in 1954. Schindler’s best finish was 14th in 1952, but he did complete the full 500 miles without the aid of a relief driver and therefore earned membership in the prestigious Champion 100 MPH club, as did Niday in ’54. Both Schindler, as a rookie in 1950, and Niday in his second start in ‘54 were the second-fastest qualifiers, although both had to start in the back by not being first-day qualifiers.

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Al Miller (dark helmet) made 11 starts in the “500.”

Couple of stories: In 1936, Miller crashed during the race at the head of the main straight with enough force to dump both himself and his riding mechanic — eventual “500” driver Jimmy Jackson — out onto the brick surface. A huge roar went up from the crowd and several women fainted at the sight of what appeared to be Miller’s leg flying through the air and landing on the track, which indeed it was, albeit being artificial instead of real.

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A crash in 1936 put Al Miller out of the race while also throwing his prosthetic leg onto the track.

The late Floyd Davis, co-winner of the 1941 race with Mauri Rose once told us, “I was there for the first time in 1937 and was on Joel Thorne’s team with several drivers including Miller. So, I am hanging out with them at Tom Beall’s diner in the garage area and we’re sitting on these wooden stools next to the lunch counter. Miller is telling stories and casually tossing a pen knife so that the blade would stick in the wooden stool next to him. All of a sudden, he misses and the blade sticks in his leg! He never even winces, pulls it out and just keeps on telling his story. I didn’t know he had a wooden leg! So I think to myself, ‘Boy, if these guys are THAT tough then maybe this isn’t for me!’”

Final story: Niday, who crashed out late in the ‘55 race while running fourth, was a professional barber who once had his own salon. When Duane Carter’s son, Pancho, was about 3 years old and sporting extremely long blond ringlets due to never having had his hair cut, it was decided one day that the time had come. Niday was pressed into service as the barber, and that memorable occasion was to be permanently recorded in a series of photographs which graced the pages of
that wonderful old racing magazine “Speed Age.”

Cal Niday appeared in three Indy 500s, from 1953-55.

Cal Niday appeared in three Indy 500s, from 1953-55.

What was the first foreign engine to win the “500”? — Jamie Walton, via Facebook

It didn’t take long for that to happen, Jules Goux winning the third running of the ”500” in 1913 with a French Grand Prix Peugeot. Not only had the two previous 500-Mile Races been won by American makes, they were actually both Indianapolis concerns, Marmon in 1911 and National in 1912.

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About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.
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